How AIM for SEVA is changing lives, one student at a time

Ritu Jha-

Sixth grader Akshita Datar’s mother died when she was born and was raised by her grandparents. Shalu Saini, an 8th grader, had a painful childhood as she lost both her parents. Ten-year-old Priya lost her father in a road mishap three years back.

That mishap threatened the well-being of the grief-stricken family and the children’s education couldn’t be continued anymore due to economic hardship on the family. That is when they enquired and found out about AIM for SEVA and how they could continue their studies with the help from AIM for SEVA. Like many unprivileged and remote girls and boys in India Akshita, Shalu and Saini are continuing with their education and persuing their dream to one day be a doctor, nurse, and teacher.

AIM for SEVA, a non-profit founded by Swami Dayananda Saraswati is a Global Charity. In the Bay area the initiative is led by his disciple Vijay Kapoor[above photo] with the help of a dedicated team of volunteers. The organization enables students in rural and tribal parts of India to access quality, holistic education through its chatralayas [hostels] and schools. It started with a modest number of 40 students and is currently educating 9000 students, of whom 4000 stay in the chatralayas full-time.

These students at chatralaya besides education, receive three nutritious meals a day, uniforms, books, health care, cultural and vocational training – everything free of cost.

On April 30, the Silicon Valley chapter of AIM for SEVA to sensitize people about its work in India and how they are uplifting the life of youngsters who are highly marginalized and hail  from very poor economic and remote parts of India.

During the event, the stories of several chatralayas’ girls were shared by two donors – Neerja Raman and Kalpana Dave – who had recently visited  the chatralayas. They said they felt so good from within, realizing they are helping an organization that supports education in India.

Raman, an author, was drawn to AIM for SEVA because of its mission of serving rural children. She told indica on the sidelines of the event, “I was happy that AIM for SEVA is committed to the total development of the girls and that is one thing that is different from other organizations.”

Neerja Raman, presenting about her visit to one of the chatralayas at Aim for SEVA event in Milpitas, Calif.

Raman who visited a Yelahanka chatralaya near Bengaluru in Karnataka, said that of the young girls she met, the youngest was about five years old, and the oldest one was about 16 years. They stay in chatralaya [hostels] and they also made friends with each other, which is unusual for girls.“I think girls stay home and they help the family, and their parents. At the chatralayas they got the joy of being with other children. And I think they realize that if they get educated, will enable them to earn, and will allow them to uplift,” Raman said. “It’s good to see that in girls, because boys, of course, are thinking about a job, but I think girls see it as a broader picture. Some of them are hoping to become computer engineers, one of them also said she aspires to become a policeman, and then there are others who are aiming for the medical profession.”

Adding on she said, “These girls have better opportunities I think than some of the girls going to school here. I have actually done a lot of teaching with children who are considered truant, use bad language, and disrespect their teacher. The children in the chatralaya are not that sort. These are kids who have love from their parents or their society. I think this is where our old Vedic culture comes in which teaches, respect for yourself and for humanity. And I think no matter how poor they are and they respect teachers and elders.”

Kalpana Dave visited an all-girls chatralaya in Rishikesh.

“I think when you respect another person which is another child, you respect yourself more too because you know you just are in that frame of mind and they give that respect to the volunteers and they get that respect from the volunteers. There’s an overall atmosphere of a civilized society that sometimes I miss over here. I used to give a lot of talks to girls who are pursuing careers in tech. Not all the girls, even if they were educated, were happy with their jobs. Whereas in India the aspirations of the girls may be to be beauticians but when I said ‘why don’t you become a color scientist’, I still remember they were extremely receptive to the suggestion and said that ‘being a color scientist is fun’. They realized then that they can be a beautician and a color scientist. I think the girls in India, once they have basics like the chatralaya, they are ready to reach for the moon.”

When speaker Dave and her husband, this past November, visited one of the chatralayas she said they got a pleasant surprise. “My husband Bharat and I went to India in November 2022 and we visited an all-girls chatralaya in Rishikesh which has 39 girls. It was an amazing experience to see those girls who had struggled in their lives and were brought to the chatralaya and how they are blooming in their lives and their dreams. The girls we met study in grades 1 to 12, and hail from villages of different states like Bihar, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.”

Dave joined AIM for SEVA just to volunteer almost two decades ago but continues as a donor because she said,  “We felt so good about the organization that we’ve decided to pledge for one wing of a new school that’s being built in Roorkee near Rishikesh.”

She said that the association with AIM for SEVA has been fulfilling for them and they have been involved in many other organizations and have been donating to various causes, but this particular one is quite heart-warming.

“There is a need to support these children – not just girls, but boys too because they live in villages where there are no local good schools, and they may have to walk for 4-5 km each day, each way, far from home to go to a Government run school. Many of them I talked to in the Rishikesh chattralayam had either lost both their parents or one. They live in very poor financial condition and had to drop out of school. After they were brought to the chatralaya, their whole life transformed. I’m happy to be part of this outreach program,” Dave said with teary eyes.

Shrini Raman, COO, AIM for SEVA USA who manages the AIM for SEVA’s 28 chapters across the country – 101 chatralaya and seven schools in India told indica on the sidelines of the event said,“ “We educate them and help them become contributing citizens of India.”

Shrini Raman, COO, AIM for SEVA USA.

Shrini who was in India lately, when asked what was the biggest challenge, he faces, said the challenge is the pandemic, which the whole world is facing. The pandemic hit hard the academic process, especially for those students in the 5th, 6th, and 7th grades.

They are a little bit hesitant to come back to the school. so out of the 9000, about 8000 children have come back to the chatralayas. This academic year, they are hoping that all the 9000 will return.

Adding on, he said the second challenge is fundraising and to meet the demand of the day to day expenses of the schools and the chatralayas.  That’s why they do fundraising every year, because every year you have to help the children. “We are building three new campuses in Roorkee in Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, and Belgaum in Karnataka. These will be full-fledged schools, along with separate boys’ and girls’ hostel, and staff quarters. All the donors for these campuses are from the USA. That’s another really heart-warming development that a lot of donors from the USA are stepping up. Because, AIM for Seva gives a very unique opportunity for people here, when they fund a building, they can build a legacy for their family and dedicate it in the name of their loved one’s ” Shrini stated.

Asked on the objective of the April 30 event said, “Lot of people know the work AIM for Seva does at a high level, a gathering like this offers an opportunity for people to interact with one another, with the leadership team and ask questions, provide input in a more casual, candid way. If people are interested in volunteering, they can sign up and anybody who wishes to help us out in any way can do so.”

Rhea Gosain, a ninth grader at Santa Clara High School and volunteering for AIMS for the first time, was seen explaining to attendees what AIM for SEVA offers told indica on supporting the non-profit, “I think that children and their education is an important cause and I want to help and support it.”

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